Nagaland chief minister tries to turn table on Manipur

Imphal, March 3 (IANS) Accused of making a “seditious” and “communal” speech in Manipur, Nagaland Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang has in turn said it’s the government in Imphal that should be charged with sedition and communalism for passing three “anti-tribal” bills.

Reacting sharply to a Manipuri legislator reportedly filing a police complaint against him for calling for “Naga unification” — taken to imply disintegration of Manipur that is home to a significant Naga population, Zeliang said the three bills the Manipur assembly passed on August 31 last year could very well invite penal provisions against “sedition” and “communalism”.

Zeliang made the controversial speech on February 14 in Manipur during ‘Lui-Ngai-Ni,’ the traditional seed sowing festival of the Nagas living in the state.

He reportedly said Nagas were divided by artificial boundaries and that “historical forces can redraw state boundaries” — inviting widespread protests in the host state for interfering in the internal issue of Manipur and driving a wedge between different communities.

Laisom Ibomcha, a Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislator of Manipur, has reportedly registered a First Information Report with police against Zeliang under Sections 124A (sedition) and 153A (communalism) of the Indian Penal Code for the alleged inflammatory speech.

A statement issued by the office of Zeliang said it is a sad day for democracy if a “mass leader like the Nagaland Chief Minister” is not allowed to speak on public interest matters without administrative and geographical limitations.

People in Manipur have of late grown extremely sensitive to large-scale migration of non-Manipuris into the state and shrinking of space and natural resources for the indegenous population.

The three bills – which Zeliang attacked — were passed in this context. The Manipur government said the bills would protect the state from large-scale migration from outside and preserve the land and resources for Manipuris.

The three bills are – the Protection of Manipur Peoples Bill, 2015, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th Amendment) Bill 2015, and the Manipur Shops and Establishment (2nd Amendment) Bill 2015.

Nagas see the bills as going against their interests and have branded these as “anti-tribal” and “communal”.

There have been widespread protests by Naga organisations in Manipur and outside against the three bills.

During protests nine persons were killed and scores of others wounded.

The Manipur government has said there is nothing in the bills that goes against any community in the state and all provisions are within the framework of the constitution.

Deputy Chief Minister Gaikhangam said, “Some vested intersts have been skim reading the bills to mislead the people”.

Elangbam Johnson, president of the United Committee Manipur, said, “If Zeliang came to Manipur for the festival and refrained from spewing venom among the people, he would have been praised. But he did not.”

A few days later, there was a mass procession and meeting in Imphal to reaffirm the integrity of Manipur.

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